Getting Unstuck: A Q&A With Dave Hollis
Dave Hollis spent the better part of two decades building a career in entertainment. He had a beautiful home, close-knit family, and the means to live comfortably. By any standard measurement, his life was perfect. But he was approaching 40 and something felt off. But personal development, to him, was something broken people did. Skeptical, he went to a conference with his wife, best-selling author and motivational speaker, Rachel Hollis. It became the starting point on a journey through therapy, self-awareness and brutal self-honesty that has transformed his life.
Now he’s on a mission to help others, like himself, who need to get out of their own way and understand that personal development and growth isn’t about fixing yourself; it’s a lifelong cycle of becoming a better version of yourself every single day. And in that journey is fulfillment, which he details in his new book, Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic’s Guide to Growth and Fulfillment.
We sat down with the Disney executive-turned author and CEO of The Hollis Co. to learn about his path to getting unstuck, and why his message resonates with those who might be skeptical about personal development.
Q: What is your background?
I worked in entertainment for more than 20 years. I was working on shows like the X-Files and That ‘70s Show. I was in talent management with a roster of different clients such as Ricki Lake and Melissa Joan Hart. I ended up taking Destiny’s Child on the road as their tour manager for their first album—fun job. I ended up at the Walt Disney Company for a 17-year career. I left my job in 2018 to pursue this work with my wife at our company, The Hollis Co. Our partnership here intends to give people the tools to change their life through live events, books, podcasts, visual education, coaching, physical products like our Start Today journal line at Target, or the Rachel Hollis line at QVC.
Before I made the [career] move, I found myself stuck. I was in a season of under-fulfillment, despite the appearances of having everything that people aspire for. I approached this milestone 40th birthday and had a big set of existential questions. So I left my job to pursue building something with my best friend. With this focus on impact and the audience, I found an opportunity to not just do some good in this world, but also hopefully find a way to get some personal and professional growth in there for myself.
Q: What are some of the growing pains you’ve experienced since leaving Disney?
The transition from corporate conglomerate to entrepreneur startup has been disorienting. Largely because I came in believing that my experiences of the previous 25 years in these companies have direct application to this business that we’re building, and as much as that experience was fantastic, what got me here won’t get me there.
My experience absolutely was helpful, but I had to unlearn a lot of the muscle memory of what it meant to operate inside of large organizations, leading large teams. The work that’s been required to get my sea legs in this now couple of years’ worth of time has been disorienting. It’s had me have to develop a set of habits that can deal with the unsteadiness of having left the dock of certainty.
Q: This is your first book. What drew you to share your growth experience with the world?
I was witness to the impact of Rachel’s books. When she first handed me a copy of Girl, Wash Your Face, I thought she thought she was making a mistake by being so vulnerable and transparent in the ways she struggled. We’re living in this world where a curated social feed is the standard operating procedure for most. The way she was sharing was so countercultural that I tried to talk her out of being this open and honest and vulnerable. Thank goodness she didn’t listen.
I was then witness to the power of how people were able to connect with that story and see themselves in the story. I started asking if maybe the experience of getting unstuck and sharing what I learned and dispelling my own lies that I believed might help people.
I decided to do it through the lens of someone who’s wired unbelievably differently than my wife. I’m a skeptic. I probably would not have bought my book or her books. I’ve never really seen developing or growing yourself as something people do unless there’s something wrong with them, and it just couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m recovering from a lifetime of having had a fixed mindset. Every chance that failure could have shown up, I tried to avoid it, and now I see it as something that I have to run toward for the opportunity to grow. In having gotten out of my own way, I found an opportunity to help others get out of theirs.
Q: How is it to work with your spouse?
We were obviously supportive of each other in our separate careers for the entirety of our marriage, and these last two years have absolutely been the two best years of our marriage; and they have absolutely been the two hardest years of our marriage. We found a way of marrying my practical operator super-strengths with her visionary creator super-strengths in a way that still has us liking each other at the end of a long day together.
Q: What is one lesson from your book that you would most like your readers to pay attention to?
I have found in my journey that we’re either growing or dying—it’s truly one or the other. Growth only happens when we push ourselves into environments where we can fail. In the stumble, we actually get to learn from that experience, which helps us become the next version of ourselves. It’s this virtuous cycle that if you stay too connected to comfort and don’t find yourself getting comfortable with discomfort, you’ll never truly be fulfilled.
Q: What was the most difficult or painful lie for you to overcome and then to subsequently write about?
Interestingly, that a drink will make this better. I had let this casual relationship with alcohol turn into an unhealthy coping mechanism. In some ways, the fact that it was hard to write feels so satisfying because the entire hope of this book is that we normalize struggle as being universal, and in that normalization it takes some of the taboo out of talking about things that are hard.
I’m super proud of the fact that I haven’t had a drink in as long as I have. I’m super proud of the fact that I’ve run my 800 miles in place of drinking when I get stressed out. I’m even more super proud of the fact that my storytelling about this chapter might afford someone else a breakthrough that helps them also replace a negative coping mechanism with a positive one.
Q: How therapeutic was writing something so vulnerable?
It had the effect of therapy but wasn’t the intended outcome prior to writing. I wish I had the insight to know how therapeutic it would have been—I would’ve started writing earlier. But every chapter in some ways was a dive into the kind of conversations that previously I would’ve only had on the couch with my therapist. And so in that I come out of the experience with this extraordinary sense of freedom that comes in proudly owning my story’s struggle. Now that they’re in the book, I am free from the shame or anxiety or fear of being judged. Because in owning it, I have now taken control of my truth, and that narrative is just unbelievably freeing.
In the same way, honestly I am such a massive advocate for therapy. I couldn’t get out of my own way until I could understand what was keeping me in my way. Therapy, in that respect, was just a massive gift.
Q: How much was Rachel—if at all—involved in this process?
She was very supportive of me writing the book, but she waited until after it had been through three rounds of edits with my editors before she read a single word. Her knowing how important it was for me to go through this journey on my own and how much richer an experience it would be for me to do it without her being a guardrail is a gift.
Q: You both write about being recovering codependents; I think that’s a big testament to your growth.
What’s interesting is the fastest route to [codependent] recovery was this decision to work together. Because every day, I had to commit to getting really comfortable with radical candor (I referenced Kim Scott’s book in mine). We’ve got too many people counting on us in this company and community to let the possibility of misunderstanding each other or having hurt feelings that fester if we’re not addressing it.
Q: What was Rachel’s response to your book?
It was one of the nicest days of my being married to her. I was so excited about what I had created, and hearing her give me the kind of affirmation and praise as an author, and as my partner—I like it when my wife thinks that I’ve done rad things, and this was one of those times.
Q: How do you define success?
Success for me will come if one person reads this book and decides they have the power to get out of their own way and makes the change that affords them the chance to show up better for themselves and those they love, too.
Q: What’s your top book recommendation (other than yours or Rachel’s)?
Carol Dweck’s Mindset was a really powerful tool for me to understand why I think the way I do and challenge the way that I think; and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit for helping me appreciate triggers, how they exist, where they exist, why they exist. It’s such an important thing to be able to get in front of how you will react to the things that you are triggered by. A trigger is going to happen no matter what, but understanding the science behind the habits, and understanding the way your mindset works—forget about it—those are two huge building blocks.
Q: Do you see more books in your future?
I’m working on a follow-up to this book about that season of feeling unmoored in the aftermath of having made this big decision, and what it’s taken to go from unsteadiness to the captain of my own ship. I’ve never been more proud of anything in my professional career than this book. Truly, I hope everybody buys this book, but if no one buys this book, the pride I have for having written it is a thing I want to try and recreate. I’m going to write a bunch of books.
Q: What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday. I just went on a three-day getaway to get clear on what 2020 is and how we’re going to do all the things—how I’m going to do all the things—and that book is a nice entrée to a three-day nature walk in Tucson, Arizona, I’ll tell you what.
Read next: An excerpt from Dave’s new book!
Photo by © ALEXA SORENSEN C/O THE HOLLIS COMPANY
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Cecilia Meis is the editorial director for SUCCESS and a digital nomad. She writes about other digital nomads, solopreneurs and the future of work.
Nice information. This man is really a motivation.